What happens when you take arguably the world's smartest man, some cutting edge CG animation, and the funding of the Discovery Channel? Well you get Into the Universe; one of the most thought provoking and engrossing documentary series' that has ever graced our television screens.
Combined, the three episodes Aliens, Time Travel and The Story of Everything total just on three hours, but there is rarely a dull moment to be endured. I braced myself for the likelihood that the material would be dry, or just go completely over my head, but I am pleased to say that my primitive cerebrum handled most of the concepts, even if it did hurt to think so deeply. A mind as complex as Steven Hawking would be relatively difficult to distill to the ordinary lay man, let alone in three brief hours, but Into the Universe is intriguing and thoroughly engrossing.
Whilst the brevity of the series does not allow for much in the way of in-depth (again, in the context of Hawking's mind), I'd like to think that the series will introduce some to the key concepts which can be expanded upon in Hawking's further materials, including the bestselling novel "A brief History of Time" should they be willing. I'd certainly like to, but I'm not sure I have the requisite mind to follow through.
For those wishing to look at the universe with their eyes widened just that little bit more, I couldn't recommend Into the Universe any more highly.
Into the Universe is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (its original aspect ratio) and encoded with AVC compression. Note that the transfer is presented in 1080i, as opposed to the usual 1080p.
The shot-on-digital transfer scrubs up well. Many scenes feature some level of digital tinkering (which reminds me - I should learn Adobe After Effects too), and the outright CGI sequences encode nicely.
My only real complaint is that it seems a slight toll has been taken to squeeze the three hours of footage onto a single layer disc, with semi-frequent compression artefacts and a few other nasties, including aliasing (probably a result of the interlaced origins). It really would have been preferable to let the series breathe over a dual layer 50GB disc.
Certainly, this is no demonstration worthy documentary like Planet Earth or Frozen Planet; but at most points it exceeded my expectations.
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Overall, a fine enough transfer.
The main audio track is encoded with DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 at 24 bits.
Based on the subject matter, I hope I could be excused for under-estimating the sonic abilities of this audio track. Far from being a centre channel narrator, along with some basic, documentary worthy synthesized music, Into the Universe sounds really quite nice on Blu-ray. Whilst the majority of the soundstage is confined to the front, there are from time to time some impressive examples of surround use, especially to accompany some of the CG sequences.
The music composed by Sheridan Tongue does a good job of piquing interest and is mixed in well.
For a documentary series, what is on offer is fairly impressive and certainly more than adequate.
Unfortunately, there are no bonus features on the single disc release.